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LETTER: DSBN needs to move graduation back to the end of June

'Their goal is to redefine excellence and to be more inclusive, but I think they are missing an opportunity for learning'
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ThoroldNews received the following letter to the editor from Dr. Monica Bertolo about our recent article on planned changes to DSBN graduation dates.

I am a member of the community and feel that these students are not alone. They are supported by many members of the community in their quest to get the graduation dates changed back to the end of June.

The most recent changes set forth by the DSBN affect all students. Their goal is to redefine excellence and to be more inclusive, but I think they are missing an opportunity for learning. By changing the date to early June, school administrators are unable to give out diplomas as this is dependent on final grades.  The DSBN states this is being done to be more inclusive of the students that were not able to attain their prescribed 30 credits (and thus not graduate with the rest of their classmates).

I feel like there has been a lack of transparency. Changing the graduation date means that students will not be getting a diploma. They also will not be receiving the Ontario Scholars Award or any academic award that is marks based. The DSBN did not communicate this clearly to the public in their letter. Nor did they communicate it clearly to all the students. It is something that is implied by changing the date but I, like so many, didn’t realize the consequences of such actions until reading more about this online. Also, whom did the DSBN consult to make these decisions? Were parents, students or community members consulted? And if not, why? This is a major decision that affects all students that are part of the DSBN. Why would they not at least allow for exploration and meaningful discussion with the public prior to implementing it?

Sir Winston Churchill pointed out that, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts”. I applied to medical school three times. I was rejected the first two years I applied. I took this rejection very hard. I was extremely upset with myself. I could have given up, but it only strengthened my resolve to push harder.  It was an opportunity to look at my life and reassess areas that needed improvement.  I took on more volunteer work, improved my grades, and returned for a research year. Finally on my third attempt, I got in. I have been practicing medicine for over twenty years now. I am grateful for all the failures in my life, and there have been many.

Failure builds character. It forces us to look at ourselves and evaluate what we have done. It is an opportunity for improvement and self-reflection.  Failure provides learning opportunities. It allows us to reflect on our weaknesses and focus on areas that need attention. Failure teaches us resiliency. It propels us to keep trying and helps to fuel the desire to improve, overcome, and eventually succeed. If we are not allowed to fail in high school, (when we are close to our family and friends, and are supported by our school community), when are we allowed to fail? Is it better to send students off to college or university with a false sense of security and let them fail then? Or how about preventing the failure in the first place-especially if it is the result of systemic deficiencies.

Failure to attain the 30 required credits to receive a secondary school diploma may be the product of systemic factors. If discrimination and poverty are the factors involved (to list a few), then we have an obligation to identify these marginalized groups early in their education and provide them all the tools and support necessary to help them succeed. It is the responsibility of the community, the school system, and the  DSBN to do this. It is not the responsibility of the students who worked to attain these credits and are able to receive a diploma.

Letting those who have not attained the full complement of credits ‘graduate’ with their peers is not the solution. This appears to be more of a Band-Aid. The DSBN needs to acknowledge the systemic failure to help these children earlier and take responsibility for it. They need to devise strategies to identify and prevent students from failing at an early stage and implement them as soon as these problems arise- not at graduation. Regardless of the reason (whether it be systemic or individual), including those students that have not been able to meet the standard is depriving those students and the DSBN, from an opportunity to learn, reflect, improve, and become more resilient.

Instead of trying to place a Band-Aid on this wound, the DSBN needs to acknowledge this systemic failure and not place the burden of it on the shoulders of the students that can graduate in 2024. The DSBN needs to continue to support the students who have not completed the required credits so that they may be able to do so in the future. They also need to honour the definition of ‘graduation’.  The DSBN needs to change the graduation date back to the end of June, and confer the diplomas that students have achieved.


Dr. Monica Bertolo
FCFP, CCFP Practicing in Dermatology
Adjunct Clinical Professor McMaster University
Board Primary Care Dermatology Society of Canada

NOTE: For clarification, diplomas will be distributed, just not at graduation, as final marks for many courses would still be contingent on the results or final exams and any culminating activities submitted after the early grad date.